Friday, March 25, 2011

Washington Monuments (March 12-13, 2011).

On my recent trip to Washington, D.C., I took so many pictures that I couldn't resist posting another series right after the first one. Here is a series showing some of my favourite pictures from the monuments and memorials I saw.

Above: The Lincoln Memorial (1922) at dusk on a Saturday evening. From the front Lincoln's statue is visible even from a distance, a bright white spot seen through the pillars.

Above: At the Lincoln Memorial, Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address is carved into the wall on the right-hand side when you walk into the building.

Above: The larger-than-life statue of Lincoln dominates the facade and interior of the Memorial.

Above: Washington Monument in the distance at nightfall, across the Reflecting Pool; taken from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I was keen to stand here and take a photo for obvious reasons :-D

: WWII Memorial, looking eerie at night-time. This memorial opened much more recently than I'd thought, in 2004. The design and architecture certainly reflect the period the Memorial is evoking/"remembering".

Above: Shadows looking ghostly on the WWII Memorial at night--an unintentional portrait/self-portrait.

: Washington Monument at night. It's slightly out of focus, but I really wanted this shot. The Monument itself was difficult and not very interesting to shoot, but I loved the effect of the lights as other people walked around its base, taking souvenir pictures of each other. Because of the low light I had to try hard to keep the camera stable without flash.

Sometimes a very famous place or thing is made more interesting when you photograph it from a position that takes the focus away from what's familiarly grandiose, or brings something mundane to it, in this case teenagers horsing around after dusk on a warm Saturday night at the park.

Above: These statues are part of the Korean War Veterans' Memorial (1995), West Potomac Park.

Above: Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (in progress).

Above: Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (1997). Sculpture by George Segal depicting a soup kitchen/breadline in the Great Depression. I am a big fan of Segal's work and didn't realise these sculptures were by him as well; I just didn't make the connection, I suppose, though in some ways it was obvious.

Above: Pillars in the FDR Memorial; covered with impressions, including braille. This memorial was truly a contrast to all the others we saw. I was excited to see it, because of its unusual design involving four "rooms" representing Roosevelt's four presidential terms, evoking significant events such as the Great Depression and World War II.

It struck me that the difference between this and the other monuments we saw was like the difference between an art piece and a temple; no imposing facade, no towering statue here, no overwhelming physical evocation of authority other than what stone words could offer (and almost everything famous in Washington has a few famous words carved into it--they love the time-binding medium and all it evokes!). I also loved the inclusion of waterfalls, an interesting contrast to the permanence of the stone and to the formality of the pools and waterworks in the World War II Memorial.

Above: Roosevelt's statue, still much larger than life, feels smaller and more accessible than Lincoln's or Jefferson's. This isn't just because he's seated (in a wheelchair, under that cloak), since Lincoln is seated as well and yet he towers over the crowds on a pedestal. It's mostly because of posture and affect and the fact that's he's on the ground, on the level with his visitors (and his dog, Fala).

I could tell I wasn't going to be able to get a picture of him without others in the frame (though there was polite turn-taking happening). So instead I decided it would be a part of his "portrait" that these people wanted so keenly to be photographed with him.

I thought the use of Roosevelt's 12 years in office as a "time/frame" for depicting other important events in U.S. history--economic disaster and war, significantly--was very effective. The inclusion of representations of "ordinary" people, as well as the statue of Eleanor Roosevelt, made it more complex and moving.

: Jefferson Memorial (1943) photographed from near the FDR Memorial. I think the Greek influence is very clear here, as with the Lincoln Memorial.

Above: Jefferson Memorial, interior. To me this looks very Neo-Classical, like a painting by J. L. David containing Jefferson instead of Napolean. And it's again very much like a temple. When you're standing inside, a cool breeze blows off the water bringing the scent of the pines that surround the structure. That under-stated aroma, the crisp freshness of the air, those things contribute to the effect of solitude and contemplation just as much as the tall, tapering columns, the clean white stone and the stark, neat rows of lettering on the walls.

Above: Vietnam Veterans' Memorial Wall (designed by Maya Lin), with Washington Monument reflected. This was a very difficult monument to photograph for a number of reasons. Because of its size and unusual construction, only a panorama would capture the entire piece. Because the black stone is polished to a high sheen, one works with a double image when shooting in daylight and barely any image at all at night (I first saw the Memorial after dark). In particular one needs to be ready to include people in the photos, because it's very tricky to get any shot of this piece without someone else either standing in front of it or reflected back in it, or both.

And lastly, aside from the technical challenges, this Memorial seemed to bear an emotional load that was somehow much heftier than what any of the other monuments conveyed. Perhaps it's the very simplicity of the concept--a black wall, covered with the names of the dead in order of their deaths, representing not only the irreparable mass of lives but also the timespan of the dying, extending in the middle to a towering height and then tapering off mournfully at each end with the impossibly small names and deaths of the first and the last to die.

It's hard to photograph this because of the feeling of improper voyeurism one experiences, picturing these names, real names not symbols of "freedom" and "democracy", and real people reaching out to press their fingers to the graven stone as if the letters carried a trace borne of their permanence. It's almost impossible not to feel the deep ache left by this gash in the ground.


  1. Your photos and notes are beautifully done. I think my favourite is the WWII memorial that has your ghostly shadow. I hope you keep sharing.

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